SHAWNEE, Kan. - The Shawnee Mission Northwest football team claimed a Second Class 6A district championship Friday night, but the team is a winner in another way. Together, they tackle autism on and off the field.
While the Cougars get ready for the playoffs, team manager Blake Atagi watches from the bench. Blake has autism.
"He's always smiling and he's kind of taught me to take every second as a blessing," said Blake Evans, Shawnee Mission Northwest wide receiver/cornerback.
And football has been a blessing for Blake Atagi just like it has been for Daniel Rabbie, a Cougars wide receiver with Asperger's syndrome. It's helped him develop socially.
"Being around people you know and I also made a lot of good friends. Yeah, it's fun to talk to people and stuff," said Daniel.
Kendall Davis is a senior with learning disabilities.
"Football's helped me to talk more, make new friends," said Kendall.
Having three students with special needs involved with the football team is pretty remarkable, except this team has four. Lineman John Jacobs has autism. He sat out practice with an injury.
These players probably won't see much action when the Cougars take the field against Shawnee Mission East in Friday's playoff. But they've already made their contribution to the team.
"It's helped our kids develop a little more patience and helped our kids understand that they're just like us and they're just high school kids wanting to have fun," said Shawnee Mission Northwest head coach Aaron Barnett.
These four students are just glad to be part of the team.
If they win Friday, Shawnee Mission Northwest will advance to sub-states where they would play the winner of the Olathe South----Lawrence game.